60 FALL 2014
the roLe oF simuLAtors
inning any race at the pinnacle of
motorsports, be it a Formula 1 grand prix
or the 24 Hours of Le Mans, requires the
best design of car, constant development of
that car, and an ongoing ability to optimize
it for any given set of circumstances.
That’s always been a given, but how
those goals are achieved has seen a
fundamental shift in recent years, with a
greater reliance on virtual development
tools now absolutely essential.
In the rarefied strata of F1 and the World
Endurance Championship’s LMP1-H ranks,
and to a lesser extent in other blue-chip
series, the process of creating a car, building
it and testing it at various tracks to quantify
the product is antiquated. Instead, there’s
a massive reliance on digital packages and
processes that have moved big chunks of
learning and exploration to data churned
out from server farms hidden from sight.
As technology marches on, races and
titles are now won and lost by successful
efforts in the digital realm before the first
With simulation techniques
becoming ever more
sophisticated and accurate, the
digital design and testing of
racecars is a burgeoning reality.
Wwheel is turned and throughout the season,
as much as by anything accomplished at the
track. This odd development – where driving,
design and engineering talent alone is not
enough to win – rewards those who embrace
everything that computer-aided design
(CAD), computational fluid dynamics (CFD),
finite element analysis (FEA), simulation
and driving simulators have to offer.
“They’re amazing in simple terms,” says
Wirth Research founder Nick Wirth, whose
company specializes in digital services.
“They’ve had a huge role in our company
since 2006, and they’ve been pivotal in
development for our more important cars.”
CAD, CFD and FEA have been regular
tools for constructors and teams to use
since the 1990s, followed by the spike in
simulation use and, recently, the growth in
multi-million-dollar driving simulators. Both
forms of simulation – with and without
drivers in the loop – represent the greatest
areas of digital racecar advancement.
“The simulator is basically limited by
Words Marshall Pruett
MAIN IMAge Red Bull